This week I watched the sun set on the farm a full hour earlier than I am used to.
I noticed the tree tips have a hint of color. I hauled a heavy load of pumpkins, gourds and squash to market and returned with an empty wagon — a sure sign everyone is feeling the fall spirit.
Decorating for the season is my favorite thing about fall. Whether you grow your own or purchase pumpkins, gourds and squash at market, these five preservation steps make autumn ornamentals last longer.
Step 1. Harvest
Well-developed fruit and dead vines are good indicators Cucurbitaceae are ready for harvest. The exterior rind should look dull and dry. Hasty harvest, scratches and other surface injuries cause fruit to rot prematurely.
Cut pumpkins and gourds with 3 to 4-inch stems. Cut a 1-inch stem on squash. Don’t use the stem as a handle until the fruit has been cured.
Step 2. Wash
Wash rind with a diluted bleach solution to kill surface bacteria and mold. Bleach disinfectant wipes are perfect for this task.
Step 3. Cure
The ideal post-harvest curing environment is a warm room with good air circulation. Damp or humid weather promotes rot. A drying period of 10 days is sufficient to cure pumpkins and squash. Small gourds require two to three weeks curing. Large gourds such as birdhouse or apple take several months to dry completely.
Large gourds may develop exterior mold as they cure. Mold does not damage gourds. Buff exteriors to remove mold once gourds have dried completely.
Step 4. Polish, paint and put on display
Now your pumpkins, squash and gourds are ready to display or decorate. Carving or painting pumpkins is a fun fall tradition. Paste wax puts a pretty sheen on ornamentals. Painting a coat of waterproofing varnish on birdhouse gourds will make them last several years.
If you plan to eat pumpkin and squash after they’ve done their decorative duty, skip the polish and paint.
Step 5. Storage
Store pumpkin and squash in a well-ventilated room at about 50 degrees Fahrenheit with 50-75% humidity. With proper preservation pumpkins and squash will last two to three months.
Don’t want to let those pumpkin seeds go to waste? Try my cracked pepper and sea salt roasted pumpkin seeds recipe.